UC presents lecture on liberal arts featuring Michael W. Twitty

Culinary historian, award-winning author talks about passion for intellectual discovery

The University of Cincinnati welcomes Michael W. Twitty, award-winning author of “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South,” for a presentation next month.

Twitty will share his views on the value of liberal arts study at a time when headlines show the discipline may be in decline. UC’s College of Arts and Sciences aims to amplify the value of liberal arts degrees--and the study of the liberal arts more generally---by launching a Year of the Liberal Arts. 

Titled “What’s It Got to Do With Me? The Importance of the Humanities to Contemporary American Life,” the event will be held Tuesday, October 10 at 7:30 p.m. at UC’s Probasco Auditorium, 2839 Clifton Ave., Cincinnati, OH, 45220.

Presented by UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, and sponsored by Taft Research Center, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, and a host of other supporters, the event is free and open to the public.

"Michael Twitty’s work touches upon history, language, religion, ideas, storytelling, and much more, which means he’d be right at home in almost any liberal arts department," says Jay Twomey, interim divisional dean for the humanities.

"But more importantly, Michael could not write about food, culture and identity as brilliantly as he does had he not devoted himself to learning in and from every context.  My hope his that his obvious passion for intellectual discovery will inspire everyone who hears him speak."

Michael could not write about food, culture and identity as brilliantly as he does had he not devoted himself to learning in and from every context.

Jay Twomey A&S Interim Dean, Humanities

Michael Twitty. TED2016 Fellows. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Award-winning author, culinary historian and A&S guest speaker Michael W. Twitty

Twitty’s work lives at the intersection of traditions—African, southern, and Jewish cultures. Through the lens of culinary arts, he explores history, heritage, faith, identity, social justice, and the human condition in his memoirs and award-winning blog “Afroculinaria,” and his writings have earned him a “Fifty People Who Are Changing the South” designation by Southern Living magazine.

His memoir “The Cooking Gene” received a James Beard Award, and this year his memoir “KosherSoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew” received a National Jewish Book Award.

An autodidact with a ferocious appetite for learning, Twitty is a disciple of the liberal arts. His life and work have had him crisscross the country—and the globe—exploring culture and heritage through his unique culinary lens.

“Michael Twitty is such an amazing and unique blend of elements of the liberal arts, and because he learned so much outside the university, he is really a great ambassador for how these disciplines exist in the real world and why they matter,” says Jennifer Caplan, author and Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati Chair in Judaic Studies at UC.

“He is an anthropologist, a botanist and biologist, a cultural historian, a writer, and a thinker. He lives at the intersection of so many different cultures and groups, and he speaks and writes eloquently and brilliantly about them all. He is the liberal arts!”

Cover of Michael W. Twitty's James Beard award-winning "The Cooking Gene"

Cover of Michael W. Twitty's James Beard award-winning "The Cooking Gene"

Twitty attended Howard University for a period, then extended his studies as an independent scholar. At 26, he travelled to Israel and Palestine, and “came back on fire,” he says. Having tasted other cultures, he travelled to eight separate countries in Africa, and an equal number in Europe.

His experiences here in the U.S. include bringing to life meals that were prepared by and served to enslaved people--cooking outdoors in pits and on open fires--to bring awareness to the day-to-day lives of Black people in the Antebellum south. 

Partnering with Colonial Williamsburg, he spearheaded the Sankofa Garden, which cultivates crops that trace their roots to Africa, and tell stories of human culture, knowledge and adaptability.

Community and the interconnectedness of cultures and people are key to understanding ourselves, and the liberal arts provide a pathway to that understanding, Twitty says. 

"Being able to teach students to think broadly, critically and beautifully," he says, "that's mental health, that's spirituality, that's self-actualization--coming to a place of powerful self-fullfillment."

Featured image at top: Coffee cooking on an open fire. Credit/Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.

Related Stories


UC faculty recognized for innovative instruction

February 16, 2022

Three faculty members in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences have received awards for bringing new thinking to classroom learning by the college’s Instructional Innovation Advisory Committee (iiAC). The Dean’s Award for Innovative Instruction is conferred on faculty who break new ground in teaching approaches, and the A&S Course Release Award grants the recipient a break from the usual teaching schedule to fully develop new or enhance existing courses. Both are awarded annually, and come with financial stipends.


With the flip of a tassel, A&S grads celebrate success

April 30, 2021

By: Joí Dean UC’s College of Arts and Sciences salutes this year’s more than 1,000 graduates, who completed their fourth-year studies in the face of a pandemic and prevailed to celebrate in the first in-person commencement in more than a year. Here, A&S 2021 seniors reflect on their experiences, and how A&S helped them on their individual paths to success.


Young, gifted and Black

April 4, 2022

A Seat at the Table content series looks to explore the experiences and identities of diverse student populations at UC while shedding light on support, resources and opportunities available at the university.